The Arkansaw Bear

A One Act Play by Aurand Harris

A little girl learns how to deal with the death of a loved one. Chris Sattlberger

In The Arkansaw Bear, Tish, a little girl, is upset over the impending death of her beloved grandfather. Her mother and great aunt, both voiceover roles, do not want her to see her grandfather dying in a hospital bed. She runs away from them and reaches a beautiful tree where she makes a wish on a star called Star Bright.

Star Bright arranges for Tish to meet two members of a traveling circus—a Mime and the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear. The Bear is old and fleeing from something neither Tish nor the Mime can see. It turns out that The Ringmaster, an incarnation of death, is searching for the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear to take him to the “center ring.”

Together the characters learn that death does not have to be final. The skills and stories that one generation passes on to the next, generation after generation, become a form of immortality.

Aurand Harris (1915-1996) was a prolific children’s playwright. He specialized in tackling difficult topics, such as the death of a loved one in The Arkansaw Bear, and discussing those topics on stage. His characters use gentle language and many of his productions notes are about making costumes, sets, and lighting non-threatening. For example, a lighting note in The Arkansas Bear is, “Never is the stage dark, eerie, or frightening.” For the Mime character, he notes, “He is not in white face, but his face is natural, friendly, and expressive.”

In the notes in his 29-page play, Harris instructs directors that there should be no masks or grotesque make-up. The young audience members should find the whole experience a welcoming, gentle, and encouraging place. Harris’s does not want a child’s fear of and confusion about death compounded with a scary mask or dark stage.

Setting: Somewhere in Arkansas

Time: The present

Cast Size: This play can accommodate 6 actors plus 3 voiceover roles.

Male Characters: 5*

Female Characters: 1

Female Voiceover Roles: 2

Characters that may be played by either males or females: 3*

*The script denotes the male roles as him/he, but it may be possible to have females play the roles of Star Bright, The Ring Master, or Mime.


Tish is a little girl who is confused and frightened for her grandfather. She is his “chip off the old block.” She is seeking a way to make peace with this major event in her life.

Star Bright is the first star out in the night. He takes pride in granting wishes. Sometimes he must be subtle about granting the wish, as in helping Tish see that she keeps her grandfather alive by being his chip off the old block. Sometimes he can grant a wish through sheer power as when he traps death in a tree until the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear can teach all his dances to Little Bear.

Mime is the friend and assistant of the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear. He speaks no words but is understood by everyone. He is sad to see his best friend go to the center ring and to know that Tish is losing her grandfather, but he is determined to help them both through to the end.

World’s Greatest Dancing Bear is the descendant of a prima ballerina bear from Spain and his father was Russia’s greatest dancing bear. He has earned medals for his dancing and has danced for presidents and royalty all over the world. He is scared of The Ringmaster/death but more scared of seeing his life’s work disappear.

The Ring Master is a grand figure. He is not evil or biased in any way. He even allows the group a few spare hours to train Little Bear. In the end, he has a show to put on and it is the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear’s cue.

Little Bear is a young bear that has lost both his father and grandfather. His mother has urged him to keep on living since that is the best way to say goodbye to loved ones. He agrees to learn the older bear’s dances in order to honor all of his loved ones and become The Arkansaw Bear.

Voiceovers: Mother, Aunt Ellen, Announcer

Content Issues: Death

In this video, see some clips of a production that used child actors.

The Arkansaw Bear and many of Aurand Harris’s other plays may be ordered through Dramatic Publishing. It can also be found in the book, Theatre for Youth: Twelve Plays with Mature Themes, edited by Coleman A. Jennings and Gretta Berghammer.